How to be an Effective Panelist

February 16, 2023

Have you ever been to a business conference where the leaders of your industry gather, network and share ideas? Most include a series of well-attended panel discussions featuring experts in things like finance, health care or agriculture.

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you are one of those experts. And that means your turn to take the stage might be just around the corner.

So, what makes a good panelist? Like all effective communicators, good panelists are prepared, they know their audience, and show up with key messages in mind.

A good panelist also knows that everything - from what you wear, to how you sit, to what you say - EVERYTHING communicates a message!

Research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at UCLA, further points to the importance of what your audience sees. According to Mehrabian, when we communicate feelings and attitudes, and there’s a disconnect between words and expression, people will believe the visual more than the verbal and vocal combined.   

In other words, your audience will often believe what THEY SEE more than what YOU SAY.

So, let’s talk first about your posture and how to sit in that comfy panelist chair. Unfortunately, a comfortable chair can work against a good visual, and this is a problem for the men most often. Guys, you shouldn’t look like your grandpa, reclining in his favorite chair after Thanksgiving dinner!

Instead, sit up straight with both feet on the floor, and use your hands to communicate. 

Before you even get to your chair, leave that stack of papers behind. The more things you try to balance on your lap, the more you look cluttered and disorganized. If you must bring notes, one page of bullet points should be enough. The reason you’ve been asked to be on a panel is because you’re an expert in your field. You shouldn’t need to read from a script!

What about a laptop? Only if you absolutely need it. If so, ask the venue for a small table to avoid the balancing act.

And finally, be like a good audience member and listen to your fellow panelists. Just because you’re finished speaking doesn’t mean you can check out. Sometimes the best insights from a panel discussion are revealed in conversations between its well-prepared panelists.

So, the next time it’s your turn to represent your organization, fear not! With some preparation and focus on the visual – you’ll be ready for success. 

Blog by Jeff Johnson